Ping pong purists and TV moguls are hoping old-school paddles can do for table tennis what the pocket cam did for poker, the Wall Street Journal reports. Hence the Hardbat Classic, an annual Las Vegas tournament with an unheard-of—for ping pong—$100,000 grand prize. The catch? Everyone has to use old-fashioned wood-and-rubber paddles, without the now-standard thin layer of sponge on each side.
“It ruined the aesthetics,” one author wrote of the sponge, “too fast, too furious, too technical.” The tournament’s other gimmick? Everyone can play, with unrated players getting big handicaps. The hardbat, promoters theorized, was a great equalizer. The final bore them out: It pitted a 73-year-old, who hadn’t competed since the 1960s, against a college tennis player new to ping pong.